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The vast majority -- over 70% -- of our earth is covered by water. Unfortunately for our thirst, 97.5% of all the water on the planet is salt water. Only 2.5% of the water on planet earth is fresh drinking water. Given that there is such a small percentage of drinkable water on the planet, the resource has become a scarce commodity. Making matters worse is the fact that much of the available drinking water on the planet is becoming polluted -- contaminated by the same people who rely on it to sustain life. There are many sources of water pollution, including untreated human waste from sewage, lack of sanitation, agricultural chemicals, and factory chemical runoff. If nothing is done to prevent these sources of pollution from continuing to contaminate water, waterborne illnesses and infectious disease could become more prevalent. Scarcity could also be an issue, as the amount of potable water is decreasing steadily. The dwindling supply of clean drinking water on the planet could become a serious source of economic and political conflict around the world. Therefore, water pollution needs to be taken seriously. Water pollution affects human health, the environment, and the health of animals.
Water is a humanitarian issue. There is no doubt that water is essential for life; a human being can go without food for some time, but not without water. When water sources are contaminated, people die. Statistics related to the lack of drinking water on the planet are staggering. According to Water.org, "88% of global cases of diarrhea is estimated to be attributable to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene." Almost of the deaths that come from diarrheal diseases (90% of them) are children (Water.org). Children die from a water-related illness once every twenty seconds (Water.org). Therefore, unclean water is a major humanitarian problem. More than 3.4 million people die each year from polluted water and poor hygiene practices related to water that lead to the spread of disease. The majority of the deaths caused by water pollution are caused by something relatively simple: fecal matter. According to the Website Water.org, more people have a mobile phone on the planet than have access to a toilet, but the majority of illness in the world is caused by unsanitary conditions such as no toilet. Clearly, something needs to be done to remedy the problem. Communities around the world need to have access to hygienic environments that prevent waste water from contaminating drinking water.
It is clear that most if not all of the problems linked to unsafe drinking water are also related to poverty and economic problems. Practically all (99%) of the problems related to contaminated drinking water are occurring in the developing world (Water.org). More than 780 million people lack access to an improved water source, which is approximately one out of every nine people in the world. The organization Water.org also notes that unsanitary water kills more people than wars. Therefore, pollution, which is usually linked with sewage, manure, and poor hygiene, is a humanitarian problem.
The scientific reason behind why pollution causes so many deaths is that when human and animal wastes enter the water, it can cause microbial contamination of the source. Water contamination problems are made worse due to the increased use of chemical fertilizers around the world. "Nitrates - chemicals used in synthetic fertilizers - can leach into groundwater or run off into surface waters," (Walls-Thuma, n.d.). It is not just chemicals from fertilizers that are the problem. "Major causes of water pollution are deposition of acid, organic sewage, detergents, agricultural chemicals, industrial effluents, silt, oil and heat into the water bodies," ("Water Pollution and Plants," 2008). Wieman (n.d) also points out, "easily contaminated by agricultural runoff, mining activities, waste treatment plants and improperly disposed-of industrial waste." Any factory or organization that uses chemicals, but does not dispose of those chemicals properly, is contributing the problem. Even golf courses are to blame, because they use fertilizers and chemicals that run off into local water supplies and to the sea (Walls-Thumma).
In addition to the impact that water pollution has on humanity, water pollution also impacts the environment by damaging crops and plants. The effect can be long lasting, because an ecosystem is fragile and cannot always cope with the loss of species. One of the major sources of plant death is something that people use on a daily basis: detergent used in laundry and industrial settings. "Various detergents from domestic or industrial use directly released or washed down into the water bodies cause serious effects of plants," ("Water Pollution and Plants," 2008). Detergents are not the only substance, of course, that is causing water contamination damaging the environment. All factory runoff, oil spills, and other problems are creating environmental destruction impacting plants and the soil, too.
Just like human beings, plants cannot live without clean water. Water is an essential part of life for people, animals, and plants. In order for plant life to thrive, water needs to be clean and free of contaminants. When plants die due to pollution, other plants that can handle the pollution take over the ecosystem. Restoring the balance can be nearly impossible, and could lead to food shortages. Therefore, farmers need clean water with which they can provide their plants so that those plants can grow to be healthy and nutritious. Ironically, farmers are part of the problem. Fertilizers and pesticides are among the most common pollutants that are contaminating water supplies. The fertilizers used to grow certain crops can change the pH balance of the drinking water. Many farmers around the world use fertilizers and pesticides to increase their yield, without realizing that in the long run they are potentially reducing the potential of the soil to yield good crops. Thus, farmers are killing the very plants they are trying to grow. The results can be devastating to humans and plants.
Lastly, water pollution also affects the planet's wildlife. Wildlife often dies from exposure to contaminants in drinking water, for the same reason people die. Microbial contaminants kill animals as well as people. More sinister are the "contaminants like solvents, pesticides, radium and arsenic," (Wieman, n..d). Oil spills are also a problem that can impact animals, sometimes even more than it affects humans. The Gulf Oil spill is a recent example of what oil spill contamination can do to non-human species. It is not just oil spills that are the problem. Walls-Thumma (n.d.) notes, "proliferation of toxic algae species also impacts the health of both wildlife and humans." The proliferation of toxic algae is related to pollution, as the algae feed off of certain chemicals. When the algae proliferates, "they produce toxins that poison aquatic organisms, such as seabirds, fish, sea turtles and aquatic mammals, like dolphins, manatees and sea lions," (Walls-Thumma, n.d.).
In addition to poisoning the food and water intake of the sea creatures, the algae can also clog the gills of fish. Any creature that eats contaminated fish will die (Walls-Thumma, n..d). Another problem is acid rain. Acid rain is caused when "various acid gases, aerosols and other acidic substances released into the atmosphere from the industrial or domestic sources of combustion of fossil fuels eventually come down to the ground," ("Water Pollution and Plants," 2008). Due to the acid rain returning to the ground and the natural water supplies, the species composition in the area can change. Some plants die out, and others proliferate, and the results are often disastrous for an entire ecosystem.
Water pollution affects every aspect of life on planet earth, including human health, the plant environment, and wildlife. The sources of pollution include human waste, animal waste from farms, and other agricultural waste such as pesticides and herbicides. Also, industrial waste is a major source of water contamination.…[continue]
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